IDEO Seminars


We currently offer four seminars:

  1. A public seminar, devoted to the Arab-Muslim culture. About two sessions monthly, either in Arabic, or French or English. Free of charge and open to all. Subscribe here to receive the invitations. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions.
  2. A joint seminar al-Azhar-IDEO in Islamic Studies for the French-speaking students at al-Azhar University. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions. This seminar is organized as part of the cooperation between us and al-Azhar University.
  3. An introductory seminar to Islamic philosophy and theology. One session weekly, in English, for the Institute’s fellows.
  4. A research seminar for the members of the Institute.
  5. International conferences, in Cairo or elsewhere, whose proceedings are published in MIDEOClick here to read the reports of these conferences.

From political to historiographical use of poetry

Noëmie Lucas

PhD candidate, Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University

icon-calendar  April 30, 2018

We are please to announce the holding of the next IDEO seminar, in English on Monday 30ᵗʰ April, at 5pm. Noëmie Lucas, PhD candidate, Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University, will present a lecture on the topic: “From Political to Historiographical Use of Poetry”.
The aim of this talk is to construe the role of poetry in the writing of the history of Ḫālid ibn ʿAbd Allāh al-Qasrī in order to underline, first, from the historical composition point of view, the role played by poetry and its relationship with prose in the narrative sources. Second, from a historical point of view, I mean to understand the role of the poet and his poetry in the entourage of the umayyad governor and therefore regarding the transmission of his memory.

The Interaction Between Twelver Shiites and Christians: History, Theology, Literature

icon-calendar April 10‒12, 2018

The IDEO, in partnership with ISTR in Paris (Institute of Science and Theology of Religions) and GRIEM (Interdisciplinary Research Group on Missionary Writings), organized a conference sponsored by the associations “Friends of IDEO” and the “Œuvre d’Orient” from April 10-12th, 2018 on the interaction between Twelver Shiites and Christians. Several internationally renowned specialists participated, including Professors Rudi Mathee and Francis Richard. A delegation of researchers from Iraq and the al-Khoei Institute also participated.

Focusing on interactions, this conference aimed to explore travel accounts, missionary writings, theological texts, embassy reports, and manuscripts in order examine the nature of how one group viewed the other, the types of exchanges that were made, and the relations between these groups. The conference also sought to show the evolution of identity, as each group underwent transformations due to these interactions within the pluralistic political contexts of their times.

We demonstrated that the existence of these exchanges was made possible by a theological necessity on the part the Shiites, as well as a theological and spiritual proximity related to the theology of redemption and the Shiite fascination of the God of love.  Economic arguments were also put forth, as the absence of subsidies coming from Europe forced missionary communities into economic exchanges in the world in which they lived, sometimes at the expense of violating their own rules. Political issues were also discussed, such as the rivalry between the Ottomans, the Mughals, and the Safavids, which made alliances with Christians necessary. These alliances gave rise to expressions of friendship and esteem for the other. Curiosity and empathy were also noted, and we were able to speak of “Christianophilia” on the part of the Shiites.

However, far from wishing to idealize the past, history also records the partial and sometimes negative perceptions of the other. Historically, ulamas were able to demand that Christians be driven away or demand their conversion. Often mentioned are the tragic situation of the Armenians and the domination of controversies. Whether real or fictional, these controversies circulated beyond the empire, and has thus carried trans-historical argumentation against the other. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, controversies were couched in a more aggressive, political argumentation, as they were often created by the State, thus showing the politicization of Christian-Shiite relations in this time.

There was also a question of Christian missionary activities, the nature of which varies according to the order, such as the Capuchins, Carmelites, or Jesuits. Faced with the lack Muslim conversions, missionaries questioned their formation, the need to develop new argumentations, the possible impact of converts as the main agents in the mission, which populations were to be targeted as a priority, the possible support of Muslim spiritual circles, and the Persian poetic heritage…

Cultural, spiritual, or religious interactions are visible at the level of the invocation of saints, iconography, and the presentation of the gospels with a Christian basmala at the beginning of each gospel…

Finally, did these exchanges, interactions lead to a better understanding of the other? Certainly. However, the missionary reports, travel accounts, and theological works often reveal partial knowledge, notwithstanding the desire to make the other more well known.

The proceedings of this conference will be published in the MIDEO 35 (2020).

The epistemology of Ibn Taymiyya

Seminar al-Azhar University and the IDEO

icon-calendar March 22, 2018

For this new session of our joint seminar between Al-Azhar and IDEO, we chose to comment on the same text, in order to highlight the processes of interpretation we use and to exchange our approaches. We chose an extract from a text by Ibn Taymiyya, which was commented on by three researchers: Adrien Candiard, OP, IDEO member, Mrs. Héba El-Zéftaoui, Assistant Professor, Mr. Ziyad Farrouh, University lecturer.

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) is an extremely prolific writer who spent his life writing treatises and fatwās, most of which violently attack the scholars of his time, especially the Shiites, the Christians, and the Sufis of the school of Ibn ʿArabī (m. 638/1240). Ibn Taymiyya, a man of keen intelligence, criticizes the Muslim tradition for not having achieved any definitive result in achieving knowledge of God, but rather engage in scholastic conflicts and fantasies about God.

In the long introductory fatwā to his book Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql, Ibn Taymiyya offers a justification for the human possibility of being able to speak about God, as well as a rational method so as to not going astray. He, at the same time, differs from the Ašʿarites, represented by Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209), who always defer reason (ʿaql), and the Ḥanbalites, of which he himself was a disciple and who are represented, for example, by Ibn Qudāma (d. 620/1223), who always defer to tradition (naql). He criticizes the idea that one has to choose between the two. Human reason and revealed tradition are not in opposition. Rather, they must be able to express the same truth about God.

The epistemological way explored by Ibn Taymiyya is based on the principle that the only sure and true thing is God himself, that He reveals His word in a rational way which is accessible to human intelligence. Moreover, since God is transcendent, none of our human methods of logical analysis apply to him, and rather than using syllogism (qiyās šumūl) or analogy (qiyās tamṯīl), Ibn Taymiyya describes the method he finds at work in the Qurʾān and the hadiths: the “Eminence way” (qiyās awlā), according to which we can attribute to God all perfections. In doing so, it goes beyond the debate over divine attributes, between unicity (the attributes of God are analogous to human attributes) and equivocity (divine attributes have no relation to human attributes).

More fundamentally, Ibn Taymiyya rejects any reasoning that would be a pure logical game of language. He finds it more certain to start from the revealed given (i.e. the Qurʾān and Ḥadīṯ), and then build logical reasoning. In other words, he is nominalist: he refuses to confuse mental realities and reality itself, and criticizes theologians, rationalists, or traditionalists who believe that the fruit of their rationalization express some reality about God. Essentially, we can say that Ibn Taymiyya built analogies based on the revealed text and not on the “eternal” truths elaborated by the human mind.

The three presentations emphasized different points, historical or theological. The discussion demonstrated that Ašʿarism, which is the official school of theology followed by al-Azhar, has developed, and that the attacks of Ibn Taymiyya in the fourteenth century are not always relevant today. However, all theological schools are taught at the university in the theological faculties, and not just Ašʿarism.

The question with which we closed our discussions was that of the place of faith between reason and tradition. This will be the topic of our next meeting at the end of April.

The emergence of Ḥadīṯ as the authority of knowledge between the 4ᵗʰ/10ᵗʰ and the 8ᵗʰ/14ᵗʰ centuries

icon-calendar January 11‒13, 2018

On January 11, 12 and 13, the Dominican Institute has organised in partnership with the French Institute an international conference dedicated to Ḥadīṯ. Our two guest speakers were Dr. Aisha Geissinger (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada) and Prof. Walid Saleh (Toronto University, Canada). We hosted 7 lectures in Arabic the first day, 5 lectures in English the second day, and two workshops the third day, one in Arabic and one in English. Here are the main issues discussed during the workshops and the concluding session:

1- Questions of methodology: how to study Ḥadīṯ today? As a literary corpus, as a source of law, as an object of piety binding its reader to the person of the Prophet, as a witness to a given historical context…

2- The question of the relevance of the use of contemporary human sciences, and thus of dealing with a sacred corpus in a profane manner (Quran, Ḥadīṯ).

3- The question of historical criticism: legitimate or not, relying on canonical corpus or composing new ones, with which tools… for what purpose? Evaluation of the isnād and/or the matn?

4- The question of blind spots in the history of Ḥadīṯ: voices that are not expressed, women, minorities,… How can we write a history that takes into account what is not documented, the point of view of those who are dominated or silenced?

5- The question of “reason” (ʿaql), which lacks, in Arabic, a working definition, allowing everyone to claim it for themselves, or to refuse it to others. It seems that researchers in reality often confuse “reason” (ʿaql) as capacity and “rationalities” (ʿaqlāniyyyāt) as its implementations.

6- The presence of several persons from Muslim minorities during the colloquium (one Omani Ibadi, two Saudis Ismailis, two Iraqi Shiites) also opened the debate on the different readings of Ḥadīṯ.

7- The question of the “scientific miracle” (cf. Bucaille), which always finds followers, including in the field of Ḥadīṯ.

The concluding session

During the concluding session, Walid and Aisha emphasized one or another of these points. However, the issue of the emergence of Ḥadīt as a source of authority was not addressed as such. If Ruggero Sanseverino has dealt with the epistemological question of its authority, to link it spiritually (and not mechanically) to the person of the Prophet, the other interventions have approached the question of the authority of Ḥadīṯ in a given context, in a given science, in a given author. But none of them studied the issue over a long period of time, and neither the workshops nor the concluding session tried to do so. One of most exciting aspects of the conference was probably the fact that it connected scholars from the West with scholars from Egypt, which is probably why the methodological issues took such an importance during the workshops.

The proceedings of this conference will be published in MIDEO 34 (2019).

No one will be saved if all are not saved

Guillaume de Vaulx

Doctor of Philosophy and IDEO member

icon-calendar December 12, 2017

It is impossible to hold these three statements at the same time: 1) “God wants all people to be saved”, 2) “God shows people a path of salvation”, and 3) “Anyone who does not follow this path cannot be saved”. Either God wants the salvation for all, in which case He cannot impose only one path of salvation; or He imposes a particular path, in which case He risks that some will not follow it. And in any case, whatever the revealed path, it is only given to a given group, at a given time, condemning those who lived prior to or far from the place of this revelation.

The author of Rasāʾil Iḫwān al-ṣafā, whom Guillaume de Vaulx believes to have discovered to be Aḥmad al-Ṭayyib al-Saraḫrsī (d. 286/899), offers an original solution within a Muslim context. For him, the world is built on complementary relationships: no one person can have all skills, per se. Rather, together, we have all skills. This principle of complementarity is valid not only in everyday life, but also for eternal salvation. individually, we cannot achieve salvation, but together, each according to his religion and beliefs, we are able to achieve salvation for all, because salvation is beyond what any of us can achieve alone.

The Plans for the City of the Dead in Cairo

Ahmed Gomaa

Doctor from al-Azhar University

icon-calendar November 28, 2017

The city of Cairo has this special feature of having neighborhoods in cemeteries where you can also find mosques, schools for teaching the Qurʾān, steam rooms, and palaces, which amazed Ibn Ǧubayr (d. 614/1217) in his Riḥla. This phenomenon, which began with a combination of circumstances in the Fatimid era (beginning in the 4th/10th century), became a conscious decision on the part the Mamluks who deliberately built houses in these quiet neighborhoods starting in the 7th/ 13th century.

This explains the existence of a very particular literary genre which exists only in Cairo. It also consists of real “tour guides” of these districts of the dead, known as qarāfa (plural qarāfāt) in Egyptian Arabic, probably in reference to the Banū Qarāfa tribe who had previously moved into this area. They are different from the kutub al-ziyārāt (“books of visits”) found in other parts of the Muslim world, especially since they never discuss the legal question of the lawfulness of these visits. Rather, they are limited to descriptions of the tombs and other buildings, as well as to the biographies of the people buried there.

There are 25 of these books, written between the 6th/12th and 13th/19th centuries, only some of which having survived to today. They are organized either geographically (grave by grave), by the order of the visit, by categories of death (scientists, mystics, midwives, etc.), or by year of death. The most famous of these works is probably the Kitāb al-kawākib al-sayyāra by Ibn al-Zayyāt (d. 805/1402).

The word āmīn in Arabic

Jean Druel

Director of IDEO

icon-calendar November 7, 2017

In his short treatise entitled A glitter in the debate about the word āmīn used in supplication and its rules in Arabic, Ibn al-Ḫaššāb al-Baġdādī (d. 567/1172) presents the state of the art of the grammatical knowledge on the word āmīn in his time. All grammarians agree that āmīn is not an Arabic word, but a Hebrew one (or Persian, or Syriac), which is however well attested in the Ḥadīṯ: the Prophet and his companions would conclude the recitation of the first sūra, al-Fātiḥa, by saying āmīn. This situation has triggered the curiosity of both Qurʾānic commentators and grammarians, who have studied the following issues: the validity of both forms, long āmīn and short amīn; the part-of-speech āmīn belongs to; its meaning; and the possibility that āmīn be a name of God.

Grammarians agreed on the analysis of āmīn as an ism fiʿl ‘verb name’ (a category refering to the verbs’ proper names, see Levin 1991), based on a commentary by Muǧāhid (d. 104/722) and ʿIkrima (d. 105/723) that the dual in Qad uǧībat daʿwatukumā (Q10, Yūnus, 89) refers to the invocation of Moses and Aaron, and that Aaron’s invocation consisted in saying āmīn. In order for āmīn to be an invocation, it has to be a full sentence. This means that āmīn is comparable to ṣah ‘sh!’, which is a ‘verb name’ whose meaning is the imperative ‘hush!’. Grammarians have thus interpreted āmīn as being a ‘verb name’, and its meaning is Allāhumma staǧib ‘Lord, answer!’

Lastly, although four ḥadīṯs transmitted by Hilāl b. Yasāf (or Yisāf), Muǧāhid and Ḥakīm b. Ǧābir mention that āmīn is a name of God, both Abū ʿAlī al-Fārisī (d. 377/987) and Ibn al-Ḫaššāb (d. 567/1172) agree that it cannot be so, although for different reasons. The former argues that an invariable noun cannot be a name of God, whereas the latter argues that it is because āmīn is a complete sentence that it cannot be one of God’s names.

Certainty and probability, from theology to the ‘servant’ sciences

Ahmad Wagih

​​Doctor in Islamic Philosophy, Faculty of ​Dār al-ʿUlūm, Cairo University

icon-calendar 18 october 2017

Muslim theologians (al-mutakallimūn) relied on the concepts of ‘certainty’ (al-qaṭʿiyya) and ‘probability’ (al-ẓanniyya) to build their theological argumentation and classify knowledge, in order to distinguish between what could be relied on and what could not. Practically speaking, however, each theological school reached different conclusions about what is certain and what is probable in their knowledge, thus leading to the differences between these schools on the mere definition of ‘certainty’ and ‘probability’.
This situation pervaded the other Islamic sciences, such as Ḥadīṯ and Uṣūl al-Fiqh, under the manifold influence of theology. This is for example the case of al-Ḫaṭīb al-Baġdādī (d. 463/1071) in his al-Kifāya fī ʿilm al-riwāya, in Ḥadīṯ sciences, where the influence of these concepts can be seen, especially in the matter of ‘uninterrupted’ (mutawātirḥadīṯ. Similarly in Uṣūl al-Fiqh, some issues have been influenced by these theological discussions: issues related to ‘independent judgment’ (iǧtihād), ‘differenciated truth’ (taʿaddud al-ḥaqq) or issues linked to the distinction between different types of semantics (dalālāt al-alfāẓ).

Historical Definitions of wasaṭiyya

Seminar al-Azhar University and the IDEO

icon-calendar September 30, 2017

On September 30th, the fourth meeting of our cooperative seminar with al-Azhar for this year took place. The chosen topic was the historical definitions of “wasaṭiyya”, usually translated as “the middle path.”

Three speakers presented their research on this topic: Ms. Inès Ata from the Department of Human Sciences (for women), Mr. Tarek Amin from the Department of Language and Translation (for men), and brother Jean Druel, from the IDEO. Each speaker reiterated the fact that every Islamic movement believes they are on “the middle path”, as compared to the extremes they condemn, whether they be secularist, literal, or violent extremes, or between tafrīṭ (indifference) and ġulū (exaggeration).

It is therefore impossible to define “the middle path” in absolute terms if we approach it from its dimension as a morale virtue; everyone can claim adherence to it. Or, to put it another way, it is futile to define wasaṭiyya as a “middle path” between secularism and jihadism. If the “middle path” is a compromise between the two, the jihadist would be right in saying that he is ‘more Muslim’ than other, which would be devastating for the community.

Historically, wasaṭiyya finds its foundation in the Qurʾānic expression “wa-kaḏālika ǧaʿalnākum ummatan wasaṭan” (Q2, al-Baqara, 143), which Denise Masson translated as: ‘And thus we have made you a just community’. A frequent interpretation of this expression is that Islam is a middle path between a Judaism considered as too focused on the law and a Christianity seen as so spiritual that it is not applicable. In this configuration, one does not become ‘more Muslim’ when they move closer to an extreme. The speakers also insisted on the communal dimension of Islam in the quoted Qurʾānic verse, where consensus among believers is supposed to be a guard against extremism.

Lastly, in Muslim theology, wasaṭiyya is the prerogative of the Ašʿarite school, which is defined by its balance between a literalism which rejects rational discussions of the text, and a rationalism which would not be held accountable to the letter of the text. In this configuration, it is the balance and negotiation between the letter and reason which makes Islam, not the abandonment of one or the other of these two features.